Book review of the Giver

Vanessa gave us this prompt today – March 24th

The Giver was a facinating look at a dystopian society, and I have breifly discussed it with a few friends since reading it.  One of my friends thought that the holding of memory and emotion was very similar to our own society.  I was taken aback at first, but now that I consider it, the truth begins to reveal itself.

Within our society we have individuals who hold the weight of remembering.  They don’t necessarily remember those erased details of history that the Receiever of Memory does in the novel, but they hold the deeper wisdom of human kind.  These are the gurus, the spiritual leaders, and the scholars in our society.  They are the Dali Lamas and the Noam Chomskeys of the world.  They seem to look down on society from some kind of meta-level and are able to act almost as prophets for the rest of us. We also have those in our society who hold and process (or at least help the rest of us process) emotion.  In practical terms, we have psychologists and counsellors, spiritual leaders and “those friends” who have a particular gift to calm a worried heart and sooth a weary soul.

Of course these are positive, healthy modes of processing emotion and holding memory.  We also have the more insidious methods that the Elders of The Giver would appreciate.  We have retail therapy, over-prescribed drugs, and illegal vices where we can dump, delete, or delay our emotional reality.  We have media and political mechanisms that erase or alter our collective memory.  We have manipulative leaders that employ memory and information to perpetuate their own power, and we use the concept of Sameness to create divisions across borders.

The Giver, says author Lois Lowry in an interview, has been on the list of the most contested books since its release in 1997.  In our class we asked why this book would be so dangerous.  Of course the consideration of Cold War America came up, but I think the disquiet of the book touches something deeper.  There is a fakeness to this utopia that mirrors our own in the West.  It permeates our collective psyche and we can rarely break through it except by experiencing Elsewhere.  My own travels to foreign lands have led me to question if this society is the best way to build.  While others return from trips saying “Oh I appreciate Canada so much when I go to other countries,” I come back from a trip thinking “thank god it doesn’t always have to be this way.”

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